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Who or What Is the Church? (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
January 17, 2023 3:00 am

Who or What Is the Church? (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 17, 2023 3:00 am

It’s possible to identify with a particular church as a result of heritage or family tradition yet not actually be included in the real church—the global community of God’s chosen people. Find out why when you listen to Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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It is possible for someone to identify with a particular church as a result of their heritage or their family tradition, and yet not actually be included in the real church, the global community of God's chosen people.

So what might be missing? We'll find out today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching from Ephesians chapter 2, we're in verses 19 through 22. The community that God has been putting together from eternity to eternity is this community, the church. And that's why his focus is not on America.

That's why his focus is not on Britain, because his focus is on his people, a people that he is determined to call out from all of time. Now Paul addresses this in Ephesians 2. He reminds these Ephesian Christians, first of all, of what they wear.

Consider, he says, what you wear. Consider secondly what Christ did, verse 13. He shed his blood.

Why? Because without the shedding of blood, there is no way for sin to be remitted. If there is any other way, then there is no need for a crucified Christ. He shed his blood. He brought us near. He made us alive. He saved us.

That's why he's then able to go on and say, Consider what you are. Verse 6, you are seated in the heavenly realms. You are ready, verse 10, to do good. Verse 7, you're being prepared for a quite incredible show and tell. He is seated as with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might have a show and tell of the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Jesus. In other words, he's going to have this amazing event, and he's going to bring people along, and he'll say, There she is. Look at her.

Do you know what she once was? Made alive, saved, transformed. This is the church. Now you'll notice that all of this came about in the lives of the Ephesian believers, and it's stated very clearly in verse 13 of chapter 1. And you also were included in Christ. You notice that phrase, included in Christ?

When were they included in Christ? When you heard the word of truth. What was this word of truth? It was the gospel of salvation. What was this good news?

The good news was that although you're in a dire predicament and cannot get yourself out, that another has come and taken your place, and as a result of all that he has done is you trust unreservedly in him, all of his benefits will accrue to your account, and all of your debit will be taken into his. People say, Oh, I can't understand that. No, it is an amazing mystery, isn't it? "'Tis mystery all, the immortal dies. Who can explore this strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine.

Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?" You see why I say to you that you may think, Oh, who cares about the church?

We don't need to be worried about the church this morning. There are many pressing issues in my life, you know. I want to say to you, dear friend, there is no more urgent issue in your life than to ask yourself in the soul and core of your being, Am I included in Christ? That's the first question before, Am I a terrific dad? Because the answer to that I can tell you right now without checking with your kids is no. You may be a good one, but you're not the best.

Or, Am I the best of this or the best of that? These are marginal matters. When were they included in Christ? When they heard the word of the truth, the gospel of their salvation, when they believed in him, they were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.

They were given a down payment so that as they walked around, they would say, This is a mystery, and I know there's more to come. Now, I think you're able to understand that this is not something that for these Ephesian believers took place apart from their minds being instructed, their hearts being opened, and their wills being changed, nor will it ever happen in any of our lives absent these elements. That is why we seek to teach the Bible in a way that is clear and understandable, in order that the message of truth may not be something that comes to grab you in the pit of your stomach and make you feel emotional, but may be something that comes and embraces your mind and causes you to think things out. And then, in the process of thinking things out, you discover that God comes to turn the key in the very core of your being in your heart and to open your heart to truth that before you never paid any attention to at all, and then to incline your will into the paths of righteousness for his name's sake, so much so that you and others are saying, It's amazing to me that I am even here at all.

I can hardly explain what has happened to me. Except that having heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and having believed it, I was sealed with the Holy Spirit. Now, here is the point—that the emphasis of the Bible, when it comes to the issues of sin and judgment and grace and salvation, the emphasis of Scripture drives all of us to it individually. It is right for us to ask the question, Where do I stand in relationship to this? What about me as an individual, given all of my background and where I am today? Where am I in relationship to this essential question? We also find, though, that having addressed that question, although we come to Christ individually, we don't live in Christ solitarily.

And that's why in verse 19 and following to the end of chapter 2, you have all of these plural references. You're no longer foreigners and aliens, you're fellow citizens with God's people. You're not living on your own. You're members of God's household. You're in a family now. You're being built together into a house, into a holy temple.

You are in a unique way. And this is a corporate reference here, verse 22, a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. And without this corporate, plural dimension, it's hard for us to make sense of much of what we find in the Bible. Indeed, without the existence of this church, which God has established, many of the passages of the Bible just trail off into oblivion. How are we to understand all of the exhortations, to care for one another, except for the existence of the body of believers?

So I must always be asking not simply, What does this mean to me? But we must also train ourselves in the study of the Bible to ask the question, What is the lesson for us? How is the church defined in the Bible? How is the church defined in the Bible?

Because clearly the answer to that question is also crucial. We know that down through history, men and women using the same Bible have arrived at a variety of conclusions regarding the origin and the essential principles and nature of the church. So if you read history, you recognize that you have the emergence of the church, you have Peter, and you have the apostles, you have the establishment of the community, they're moving forward without mass evangelism, they're moving forward without church buildings, they're moving forward without any significant hierarchical structure at all, they are establishing elders in every community, there is no indication in the early centuries of any elder arising as a peculiar elder above all the other elders, the constitution of the church is marked by parity and by plurality, and then Constantine is converted, and for the first time, church is no longer marginalized, but to be a Christian is somehow or another caught up with the Roman government and with the Roman state. That begins a change in the thinking of men and women, and out of that emerges structures that had never been in place before. And on down through there into the medieval period and the Dark Ages and Constantinople and the issues there in Greece and the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox Church and the establishment of the Roman see and the papacy and all of those other things are now going on down through history. If at any point in the process anybody would take their Bible and say, Excuse me, do you think we may just have got off the road ever so slightly? The answer was, Yes, I think so.

However, it happened sparingly. And so by the time of the Reformation, it is going to take a major upheaval to go back to the essential truths that were represented in the fledgling church in the Acts of the Apostles. And here we are today. If you want a bewildering exercise, get a copy of the Yellow Pages this afternoon and just sit and run your way all the way through it and say to yourself, If I was just the average secular person looking for a Christian church or whatever it was, what would I do here with this motley selection in here in the Yellow Pages, all advertising their wares and suggesting one thing or another and all able to give a definition of the church that differs from each other? Why is it Parkside Church? Why is it not Parkside Presbyterian Church? Why is it not Parkside Orthodox Church or Parkside Baptist Church or Parkside Pentecostal Church or whatever it is? Why is it just Parkside Church?

Did we run out of adjectives? No, it's called Parkside Church for a very essential reason—because of our convictions as to the nature of the church as it is defined in the Bible. Because what we discover when we read the Bible is that the church is referred to in such a way that the real church ultimately is clearly invisible, comprising all of every age who have been included in Christ, scattered throughout all of the world in all kinds of places. This is the church to which Jesus refers when he says, And the gates of hell will not prevail against her.

Because if you think about church history at all, you say, Well, the gates of hell have been prevailing very well against the church. After all, this one fell down. This one had three of those guys. This one did this.

The other one did this. The whole thing is total chaos. What do you mean, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church? He is referring to the church church, to the invisible church, comprising the elect in every age. Oh, you say, especially the thinking young person's nudging his mother now, says, I'd like to become a member of the invisible church, Mom. Especially if it means we don't have to go back for another one of these sermons. Put me in the invisible church now.

We have a significant invisible church that is present in the larger congregation of Parkside, but we'll leave that aside for the time being. Now, the only way that I can make this contrast with clarity is to quote to you now from a document called Dominus Jesu, sixteenth of June, out of the Vatican, from the pope and his pontiffs. And I do this not out of a sense of controversy, and I do this recognizing that some from this tradition don't even understand this themselves.

But I do it because this, my dear friends, is an absolutely defining, crucial issue. What does it mean to be included in Christ? What is the church?

Who is the church? Now, this is page 11 of 21 pages. The last six pages are all bibliography.

You can get it on the internet. If you search the web Dominus Jesu, you find it for yourself. Let me read you just a little bit. The Catholic faithful—because my friends always tell me, you know, you keep quoting the Catholics, and you say things, and it's all—you don't even understand the counselor trend. You're always reading old stuff. Everybody's changed, you know. Start reading the new stuff. Okay, here I am. Here's the new stuff.

This is the most up-to-date stuff I can find. The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity rooted in the apostolic succession between the church founded by Christ and the Catholic church. This is Catholic with a large C. This is not Catholic with a small c, i.e.

universal. They are referring to the Roman Catholic Church. This is the single church of Christ, which our Savior after his resurrection entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule her, erected for all ages as the pillar and mainstay of the truth. This church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Now, I could read on, but I don't want to bore you.

And I'm not skipping things to take it out of context. The churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church—this is a reference to the Orthodox Church, to the Greek and the Russian Orthodox Church—the churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true, particular churches. Therefore, the church of Christ is present and operative also in these churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the primacy which, according to the will of God, the bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire church. So I'm reading. I'm looking for us in it.

Yeah, I'm looking. Parkside Church, however, is… But we are in here. We are an ecclesial community. On the other hand, the ecclesial communities, which have not preserved the valid episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not churches in the proper sense. However, those who are baptized in these communities are, by baptism, incorporated into Christ. Now, stop for a moment and ask what we just read in Ephesians 1.13. "'And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel, and believed.'" Now, loved ones, I say to you again, this, heaven depends on this. We are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the church. Baptism in fact tends per se towards the full development of life in Christ through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the church. The Christian faithful—which is a reference to the Roman Catholic faithful—are therefore not permitted to imagine that the church of Christ is nothing more than a collection, divided yet in some way one.

See? An invisible church. Divided, yet in some way one, by the mysterious union. But she herself hath union with God the three-in-one, and mystic, sweet communion with those whose rest is one. This is the church's one foundation, I'm quoting to you now. They say, the faithful are not allowed to pay any attention to that at all. Nor are they free to hold that today the church of Christ nowhere really exists and must be considered only as a goal which all churches in ecclesial communities must strive to reach. In fact, the elements of this already given church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic church, and without this fullness in the other communities.

Now let me finish. Therefore, these separated churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation—hey, thank you very much!—for the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation—now, here's the kicker, and listen carefully—has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic church. I say I don't use this as a means of division or controversy. Some of my dearest friends and some who sit in front of me now have been brought up in this. Why would I ever mention it?

Because this is the question. What does it mean to be included in Christ? Dark ones, do you understand that if this is right, we are nothing more than an ecclesial community? We have wandered and strayed from our ways like lost sheep. We do need to return to the mother church and confess the mistake of the Reformation and embrace all of this, if this is right. But if it is wrong, will we then simply form an alliance on the basis of the moral predicaments of our time? Can we?

Dare we? In the Old Testament, the community is described in two words. One word is idah—e-d-a-h is the transliteration of the Hebrew. And this refers to the community of God as a result of heritage and external union. The second word is kalal—q-a-l-a-l—which describes those who are united to God within the idah, who are united as a result of hearing the call of God to them.

It is that kalal word which is then translated ecclesia in the New Testament translation of the Old Testament, and it is the word ecclesia which is used throughout the New Testament as a description of the nature of the church, thereby reminding us that it is clearly possible to be part of a visible, identifiable church entity as a result of external assignation, religious interest, focus, heritage, baptism, family tradition. It is distinctly possible to be part of that idah without being part of the kalal, without having heard the call of God into our spirits, saying, I want to include you in my Son. I know that you have been at infinity from all of these external elements. I know that this is important to you. I know that you're trying to work all of that out. But listen, don't let all of that prevent you from hearing the word of truth as it is proclaimed in the gospel, believing it and being included in Christ.

You see, this is the great issue. Is a person a Christian as a result of something that is done to them by a religious professional? Is a person a Christian as a result simply of them determining that they will now include Christ and Christianity in their portfolio? Or is a person a Christian only when they have been brought to see the utter end of themselves and the hopelessness of all of their attempts at acceptance with God, and they have cried out to him, Lord Jesus Christ?

I cast myself upon your mercy, and I am amazed that you would include me in your company. It is so important for us to remember what Alistair said today. We come to faith in Jesus individually, but we don't live in Christ solitarily. You're listening to Truth for Life. What is Alistair Begg with the conclusion of his message titled, Who or What is the Church?

Alistair will be back in just a minute. We often receive phone calls at Truth for Life from people who are asking us about what to look for in a local church. Some are new to the faith, others are relocating to an unfamiliar place. If you're currently looking to join a solid Bible teaching church, Alistair has a blog with some helpful tips on what attributes to look for. You'll find the blog on our website at truthforlife.org slash find. At the bottom of each blog, you'll also find a helpful series you can listen to titled Seven Marks of an Effective Church. Along with the blog, you'll also be helped by a book we're recommending as a supplement to this series. The book is titled Corporate Worship, How the Church Gathers as God's People. The book explains how Christians should come together to worship God and why community is essential for God's people. This is a book that was written by Matt Merker. He works with Getty Music.

You may have sung his song, He Will Hold Me Fast. In addition to explaining the essential elements of a biblical church, which include baptism and communion, Matt also explains the importance of music as a part of a church's worship service. Request your copy of Corporate Worship today when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate, or call us at 888-588-7884. Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. God grant that we may be completely unsettled and unresting as individuals until you pursue us into a corner in which we cry out that we might be included in Christ by grace through faith and that not of ourselves. We commit one another into your care. We pray that nothing that has been said would rob us of a serious consideration of the Lord Jesus Christ. And may His grace and His mercy and His peace from the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one who believes, today and forevermore, amen.

I'm Bob Lapine. Who's in charge of your church? Is it the pastor, a team of elders, is there a board of trustees? Join us tomorrow to find out how the answer to this question impacts the health and growth of the church. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-17 05:34:40 / 2023-01-17 05:43:50 / 9

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